The world of medieval Europe is a complex domain that we do not know very well, and are highly ambivalent about. On the one hand, we tend to dismiss the people of this era as fools; filthy, diseased religious fanatics with ill-intentions moderated only by their ineptitude. On the other hand, in spite of that, we are heavily drawn to this theoretically odious realm. Every year, the stunning architecture, sublime art and fascinating material culture of the medieval world generate billions of dollars in tourist revenue. People come from the proverbial four corners of the earth to walk the streets of an all-to-swiftly disappearing Venice, to stroll the art strewn aisles of the Uffizi museum in Florence, to gaze in uncomprehending awe at the Cathedrals in Strasbourg, Milan, or Vienna. To sit in a cafe in Bruges or Prague and gaze up at the town hall tower, and wonder what life was like there centuries ago.
A huge array of literary, film and gaming genres have been constructed around fantasy derivations very loosely based on medieval Europe. And we have had a great deal of fun with it all – to a point. The contradictory perceptions of medieval life deeply embedded into our popular culture make it hard to transcend the literary tropes or even make sense of them. At some point they all break down. How could they be such clods and create such marvels? If we really thought those denizens of another age were as inept and dirty as conventional wisdom tells us, we would not find them nearly so fascinating. As poorly as we understand it, medieval Europe is a world with a special magnetism, which speaks to us in the aesthetic of its material culture, it’s surviving architecture and fortifications, it’s armor and weapons. Many of us, in our youth, even felt the pull to pick up a sword ourselves.
But for most, the way is blocked. The very legends and genre tropes which draw us toward the medieval world simultaneously derail us from the path that might lead us there. The only way to make any sense of it is to start fresh. To abandon the tropes and the legends altogether and look at the actual data, read the primary sources, walk the cobblestone streets and examine the battered but still elegant castle walls ourselves. Only then will we find our way back, keeping in mind that the past is a foreign country.
The Codex Guide to the medieval Baltic is our first attempt to act as a guide for those intrepid enough to risk stepping out of their comfortable modern genres – the Tolkein’s and the Gene Wolfe’s, the George R.R. Martins and the rest, and begin to explore the real thing. It is out there, and it is fascinating. In our “Guide to” series, we hope to play the role of Virgil to your Dante, to take you through the many perils and dangers of the past, through the Hellscapes and into the small Eden’s that were also created there. At some point, you want to get to the source of things, the copies and the copies of copies just don’t scratch the itch any more. If you have ever had that feeling, this is one way to do it.
The “Guide To” series is not a game supplement. It’s a historical encyclopedia, a reference and a guide, an almanac and yes even a road atlas, to a world which existed five Centuries in the past. The first book, “Codex Guide to the Medieval Baltic” covers the basics of that world, the world of knights and peasants, the far more complex and sophisticated urban realm of the burghers. The details of combat and warfare in this time and place in the chilly North eastern corner of Europe. Volume 2 covers the history of the various kingdoms, free cities and communities of Central Europe, the worlds of the Church, the scholars of the Universities and the clandestine practitioners of forbidden knowledge.
Volume 2 is scheduled for release in early 2021. After that, we will pick another region and possibly another time to focus on.
Stay tuned for more!